President Barack Obama visited Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois (southwest suburb of Chicago) today (Friday, March 15), to kick off an Energy Security Trust program for the United States.
Using advanced vehicle tech to wean US transport away from gasoline
Originally a bipartisan proposal, the President said, the trust will ultimately change the fuel standard for American cars and trucks and remove the aggravation and waste of volatile oil prices. Two other goals: reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and "avoid some of the perils of climate change."
The proposal expands goals Obama set forth in his State of the Union address a month ago to drive economic growth. The specifics:
- Taking $2 billion of the funds oil and gas companies already pay in royalties to lease our federal lands for petroleum drilling (recently booming from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking) and
- Applying the money to research into cost-effective technologies (advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, and domestic natural gas, for example).
“It feels like you’re getting hit with a new tax, coming right out of your pocket," the President said in characterizing the recent gasoline price rollercoaster. "The only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices—is to shift our cars [and trucks] entirely... off oil.”
Restoring important work halted by sequester
The move would replace funds lost with the mandatory budget sequester and by expiration of stimulus funds. The President quoted the words of Argonne's director, Eric D. Isaacs, last week:
"This sudden halt on new starts will freeze American science in place while the rest of the world races forward, and it will knock a generation of young scientists off their stride, ultimately costing billions in missed future opportunities."
A Department of Energy panel recently noted that Argonne's Advanced Photon Source, the part of the National Lab where the President gave his remarks, is a pillar of American world leadership in science and "absolutely central" to the nation.
A world-class facility, Argonne does cutting-edge research on high-tech vehicle technology. Under the sequester, the lab is anticipating budget cuts of around 5%. Isaacs said that the drop in funding would force Argonne to cancel all new programs and research initiatives, probably for at least two years. Such cuts could have a long-term ripple effect that would damage science and innovation nationwide, Obama said today.
"Getting our energy future right"
To the chagrin of Republican congresspeople, who have been pushing back on the automatic funding cuts lately, Obama repeated his view that the sequestration will harm, not help, our economy. The President vowed to break cycle of gasoline hikes and spikes through this new initiative, which he says will not add “a dime to our deficit.”
Saying that he looks forward to moving the nation beyond "governing from crisis to crisis to crisis," he restated his goal of maximizing American energy through the "all-of-the-above" strategy he has embraced so far. The President singled out using biofuels, solar, and wind, and cracking down on waste as preferred ways toward a more stable future for American energy.
He also intends to use the program to improve national security by reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to help the environment, which is increasingly threatened by climate change. The new trust fund will require approval by Congress, with the House still stymied by a vicious partisan divide. Early Republican reactions to the speech have been mixed.
The President concluded on a personal note by congratulating the Argonne scientist who invented the rechargeable lithium battery for cars 20 years ago. Argonne remains the nation's home of a multimillion-dollar project to develop smaller, cheaper and more powerful batteries for electric vehicles.
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert covers developments and environmental issues in conventional, solar, wind, biomass, large and small hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. She detailed events and policy through the recent election campaign and at last fall's 18th UN climate change summit meeting in Doha, Qatar. Sandy has also reported on extreme weather disasters, including superstorm Sandy, winter storm Nemo, and the massive summer wildfires of the past decade.
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